Americans care less about being American than the immigrants who scale border walls and flee Cuba on rafts to provide a better life for their families on U.S. soil. Ask any American what nationality they are and they’ll list everything other than American.
I’m half Italian.
I’m a quarter French.
I’m five-percent Dutch.
No one ever wears a shirt that says “Kiss Me, I’m American.” Americans don’t do it better. According to bumper stickers and baseball caps, Italians do. The general lack of national pride prevalent in our country is the reason most Americans don’t care much about soccer on the international level. We’re too busy jumping on another country’s bandwagon, specifically the country whose colors run through 10- to 15-percent of our veins.
It might help if all the players on the U.S. team were born here, which they weren’t. Among the players most of us have never heard of, we have a German defenseman (Timothy Chandler), a Norwegian midfielder (Mix Diskerud), and a German coach (Jurgan Klinsmann) leading the charge, the same coach who recently told the world we have no chance of winning anyway. Some of the players who were actually born in the United States, such as Icelandic winger Aron Johansson, lived most of their lives on foreign soil.
This is as heartwarming an American tale as Meb Keflezighi, an African long-distance runner born in Eritrea who wasn’t even a U.S. citizen until 1998 but is considered the first American runner to win the Boston Marathon in more than three decades after finishing first in April. If you expect American sports fans to embrace Keflezighi, who wasn’t even born here, you can’t get mad if Vinny from Johnston rocks a “Forza Italia!” shirt and roots for Italy in the World Cup.
It might help even more if the team was good, which it’s not. The U.S. hasn’t advanced past the Round of 16 since 2002. Our best finish was third place in 1930. We didn’t even qualify for a three-and-a-half decade stretch between 1954 and 1986. Even with foreign-born players swiped from other countries, we still can’t compete with the traditional soccer powerhouses in Germany, Brazil and Argentina. The odds of the U.S. winning this year’s World Cup are 100 to 1. It could be worse. At least we’re not Cameroon or Bosnia.
The problem starts at the youth level. Our kids are better at every other sport because our parents live vicariously through every three-pointer, home run, touchdown or forecheck.
Baseball has the overbearing Little League dad who thinks he’s smarter than the coach and makes his kid field grounders and hit off a tee until sunset. Politics in AAU basketball are more corrupt than on Capitol Hill. Hockey dads beat each other to death. Football has Marv Marinovich. Soccer? Soccer has the soccer mom, the clumsy, overwhelmed, stay-at-home wife who loads up her mini-van and drops the kids off at soccer practice just to get them out of her hair for a few hours so she can Lysol the living-room table or watch Lifetime. Soccer moms don’t care whether their kids win or lose. They genuinely believe it’s all about how they play the game. With that kind of attitude, how do we expect to accomplish anything in international soccer?
As an American, it’s hard to get behind a team that’s not very good, and not all that American to begin with. And with our German coach telling me we have no chance whatsoever, why bother?
Until then, it’s cappuccinos on The Hill in DePasquale Square quoting Sopranos episodes with my fellow paisans while pretending to know the difference between Barzagli and Bonucci. Forza Italia! At least they have a fighting chance.
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